When I left Los Angeles the other day, I suddenly realized that almost no one was buzzing about the recall race.
Ordinary folks weren’t chattering about it. I didn’t see anything on local TV news. The papers were covering it, but the campaign seemed as remote as a Malibu mountaintop.
In fact, the only political passion I saw was at an anti-vaccination rally in Santa Monica, which prompted plenty of horn-honking among passing drivers in the liberal enclave.
But with three weeks to go, the national media have suddenly woken up to the fact that Larry Elder could be the next California governor, and are hitting him with a sledgehammer.
The conservative radio host, in turn, is denouncing the press as biased and unfair.
“How Did Larry Elder Become a Front-Runner in California’s Governor’s Race?” The New York Times asked Tuesday, though the answer has been obvious for quite a while. With two other Republican candidates urging Elder to quit the campaign to replace Gavin Newsom, Elder’s rise “has stunned and unnerved many in both parties,” the paper says.
As I noted in this space back on Aug. 13, this turns on the strange nature of the Golden State’s recall rules. Newsom will be removed if he can’t get to a majority plus one, and the yes-on-recall vote is now polling at an average of 48%. The top vote-getter in a crowded field would then go to Sacramento, and Elder is leading the pack with an average of 22%.
Much of what journalists are digging up about Elder is fair game. But consider this piece by Los Angeles Times columnist Erika Smith, headlined: “Larry Elder is the Black Face of White Supremacy. You’ve Been Warned.” Accusing the commentator of whitewashing the problems of being Black in America, Smith called his candidacy “an insult to Blackness.”
Elder told his friend Sean Hannity on Fox that there is another L.A. Times writer “who all but called me a Black David Duke. They are scared to death.”
Other recent L.A. Times pieces: “Larry Elder Talks a Lot. Too Bad You Can’t Believe Anything He Says.”
“If Larry Elder is Elected, Life Will Get Harder for Black and Latino Californians.”
More substantively, the paper reported that state officials are investigating whether Elder failed to disclose all his sources of income.
The most lurid allegation surfaced in Politico, which quoted his former fiancée and radio producer Alexandra Datig as saying she broke off their engagement in 2015 “after he waved a gun at her while high on marijuana.”
Datig, who was once part of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss’ network — this is so California — told Politico she was “terrified” and “ran for my life.”
Elder said on Twitter that “I have never brandished a gun at anyone. I grew up in South Central [Los Angeles]; I know exactly how destructive this type of behavior is. It’s not me, and everyone who knows me knows it’s not me. These are salacious allegations.”
Newsom and Elder’s GOP opponents have made his attitude toward women a major issue, pointing to a column two decades ago in which he said “women know less than men about political issues, economics, and current events.”
Elder’s provocative language over the years — in opposing the minimum wage, vaccine mandates and abortion — shows how radio rhetoric can become instant fodder in politics.
New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo is provocative as well, calling Elder a “liberal nightmare” whose record “is so far beyond the California mainstream that he functions as a one-man cattle prod for energizing the Democratic base.”
Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle aims at the arcane nature of California’s recall process: “The question is whether any of us can accept losing an election anymore, or whether this constant rhetoric about a ‘rigged’ democracy has led us to a place where we are willing to live only with the outcomes we like and immediately set about trying to undo the ones we don’t.”
It’s true that Newsom, elected in a landslide in 2018, isn’t embroiled in some major scandal, but battered largely because of Covid and his own blunder in having a group dinner at a luxury restaurant while urging constituents to stay home.
Little wonder, then, that the Democratic governor is aiming most of his fire at Elder, whose battles with the press haven’t hurt him with Republicans while he ducks the debates. If Newsom can’t generate more excitement than I saw in Southern California, he stands a good chance of following Andrew Cuomo out the door.